Friday, 16 April 2010

Unwittingly spending time in Italy

So yes, time in Italy is now going to be a wee bit longer than I'd initially planned: for reasons unknown, I now sit on my bony little bum and put my leg up. I'll get to that later as the story unfolds; a chronological series of events that lead to my current bum-sitting situation. A word of warning though- seeing as though I have the time to write I have actually written a bit of a lengthy blog. You have been warned. If you’re feeling lazy, there are a series of pictures that tell a thousand words- you could just check them out and try to piece the story together in your mind...

Wet from the inside out; I arrived at the French/ Italian Alps to Shanu's place in Cuneo. I took a welcoming hot shower, changed into some nice dry clothes, and had a wee catch up. The night before that Jess, Nicco and I went to a crazy DubStep Party in the French Alps, which, combined with the crazy elements I’d endured on the road and very little sleep, I needed a nap so I could be present. I hadn't seen Shanu for at least two years! It was so great to see him again- considering his amazing energy for life! He is living in a pretty cool apartment that entails a collage of amazing photographs from all different cultures and landscapes from all over the world.

Shanu at his flat in Cuneo - peace out brother!

I stayed with Shanu for a great couple of days where everything happened spontaneously and we had such a fantastic time. I love spontaneity, the way it takes you into places of the unknown. Who knows what will happen; when, where or why? When you arrive somewhere with prepared plans, you hold expectations, and if they do not transpire, you leave yourself open to disappointment if they vary from the original predicted assumptions of that journey. So having no expectations leaves you open to the greater wonder of life and opens things up to be much more exciting and exhilarating. Bring back the spontaneity of life I say!!!

After many great meals, chats and walks around beautiful Cuneo on the very west of Italy; neatly tucked in just under the Alps, it was all about reminiscing the good times... and then continuing them! One night Shanu thought we were cooking dinner for his friends, but this was not the case as they took us up further into the mountains again where snow was still lying cold but now dirty on the ground, to a wee pub/ home style restaurant. I can’t remember the name but it was a fantastic place; so warm and inviting- it felt just like a home. It was very popular amongst some very amazing Italian people too, they even squeezed in a band downstairs later on, which I could hear but not see. It was so tight and intimate and was great to mingle with some beautiful Italian people- all in all; it was a great night out. As the bar closed we scored a ride home with Ilaria. As with most things in my life- it turned out to be a pretty funny mission. Let me explain why. Ilaria was really paranoid of the cops and tried to bypass them by going the back way home, but in the crazy effort to avoid them in every way possible, we passed a pull over point at a roundabout and had to stop. While pretending to have her seatbelt on, as it was broken, as well as having had a drink or two, she thought she was busted. Anticipation and anxiety filled the car. Luckily all was sweet in the end. She just showed her license and said she hadn't had anything to drink. Off we went while I slyly held her seatbelt falsely in place.

Small village up from Demonte

Waking up the next day, it was quite late and we had a phone call from two of Shanu's friends Valta and Monica inviting us up into the Alps to visit some of their friends that they thought we would like and relate to. So we prepared something to eat and jumped on the bike and headed into the Alps once again (I thought I was finished with the French and Italian Alps by this stage of my journey but they must have held more adventures for me to experience). This place was amazing though, honest rural Italy in the Alps, with the delight of snow that had just cleared away from the valley but still covered all the north facing slopes. The lands facing south were singing whilst waking up and having a big stretch as the new shoots of this year’s season was budding and sprouting back to life.

Helena's beautiful house was up in the hills from Demonte, she had a beautiful family and was quite an eccentric woman who was a Felter amongst many other personas. She had an amazing banner symbolising religions and political symbols from various religions from ancient times to the present. She brought them all together to symbolise a united people; one unified race. This piece demonstrated her belief that we should not have these symbols that describe or dictate our being, as it is vital in this world to live as one amalgamated body of humanity. It was very beautifully done and would have taken much time and effort. She also made many crazy hats and felted these amazing jackets, like Old Russian Soldier Guard jackets and many other interesting fancy dress type clothing; all made out of felt.

Helena's beautiful felting piece

We ended up starting out on a little walk, which enduringly turned out to take the rest of the afternoon. No one was complaining though, it was amazingly beautiful. We walked along this small donkey track on the side of the mountain to the next small village which was a fair distance away. We had many great conversations in broken English and Italian, but a good lesson for Aja and Seria who were learning English at school. With a mid way stop for a well deserved beer, and making friends with Baboo the humble bee, we took off in the late afternoon back home, nicely tipsy as the sun slowly fell on us as we continued walking. I really enjoyed walking in the fainting light and as night fell upon the amazing sky. The shadows of the mountains grew to meet out feet. By the time we got back, it was certainty dark and we stayed for a meal which ended up being an all night long. It was so beautiful hanging out in an Italian home, it was very warming, with home-made breads warmed in the fire and some fantastic soup and salads. This combined with beautiful company and I was certainty happy to enjoy my time there.

Seria and Valta taking in the spectacular views

Walking back up the hills with everyone.

That following day Shanu and I went to visit his parents Adriano (Plifiu) and Laura, they were a beautiful couple who were potters, and are very amazing potters at that. With their house set up like a train, it was very beautiful and contained many amazing art pieces. Their home had very earthy and proud home-made feeling. As a couple who worked and lived a humble potter’s life together, I could feel their love and passion for life with one other. They also have just started a blog which is worth taking a look at They called some great friends of theirs for me after a very delicious lunch, and organised for me to visit some dear friends of theirs Gianni and Miskey who lived up from Assisi in a place called Paradiso. They needed some help on their property, and so I was happy to visit and help them out. So I had one last night at Shanu's in Cuneo and then I was off to head towards the exciting and more warming Mediterranean. Cheers for all the good times Shanu, I had a great time and it was so good to catch up again, you’re great mate!

Laura, the bandit and Adriano (Plifiu)

So I headed towards Genova. Oh my, what an insane mission that was! There was a slight chance of precipitation from the South East when I was leaving but as I headed closer and closer to the ‘Med’, over the mountains stood a massive dark cloud that filled the sky and it was heading my way. Lightning strikes were being thrown everywhere and the thunder was a deep and an overpowering tremble. I hadn’t seen a proper storm in ages. It didn't give much warning before it pissed down, so hard that it even hailed, I rode through it all and as I was following a smaller road by a creek line, I was watching the water rise. With the insane power of the storm, my waterproofs did not live up to their name. They seemed to do nothing in the face of this rainfall. I was so wet and cold and in complete awe, everything that was not in my pannier boxes was wet. I thought sarcastically to myself: "I love it when that happens!" It was tough riding.

The roads became flourishing streams of mud and debris from the surrounding forests. But I didn't want to stop; well actually there really was nowhere to stop! If I did stop, I would have just got colder and colder. I don't think I could have got any wetter than I presently was, so I pressed on. However, my bike ended up stalling up a hill as my petrol ran out. It was too difficult while I was riding to switch the fuel tap to reserve, so I was there trying to balance the bike with no hand brake with all my gear. It was so heavy that it seemed to want to pull me back down the hill as the road was washing beneath me with the gushing rainfall. What a struggle! This was a nightmare! Why must my petrol run low right there and then? I believe that I handled it quite well. Despite a few negative thoughts I didn't lose my shit. It’s all about the power of the mind. I switched over to the reserve tank and waited until the petrol started to flow into the engine again and then cranked her over and over and over till she eventually started and I was off. Phew!

My surroundings and the landscape around me were turning green- the beauty that follows a storm like the one I just experienced! There were green plants all around; therefore I sensed that I was getting closer to the Med Sea. Rolling over the last of the hills I could see the Mediterranean in the distance and the clouds started to disperse, revealing the much desired beams of warming sunshine. What beauty! I was in a much more excited mood now as I had made it to the Mediterranean Sea and the sun was shining. I was so happy so it wasn’t hard to forget about how soaking wet I was. I picked up some fuel, lubricated the chain and headed along the coast in an attempt to get as close to the Cinque Terra region as I could before sunset. I followed the Coast Road the whole way and it was an absolute delight. Although riding quite slow up, down and around the Coast Line, it was an absolute pleasure. I was trying to bypass the highway too, so I could enjoy the coast road. Fortunately that unpreparedly ensured that I pass through the centre of Genova. Now that was an experience!

It was a crazy race- a hundred thousand scooters were at every set of traffic lights. I was forced to weave in and out of so many cars as they lead the way in their modes of transport. Scooter riders are mad! I guess it’s just what they are used to. So I got in the roll of it too, travelling up the side lanes of traffic and weaving in and out. I finally made it through Genova and hit the coast road again. I made it to a small village called Moneglia, there I found a nice camp spot right on the coast, close to the tunnels that connect the coastal villages. I set up camp and cooked some food and hung everything out to dry for the night. It was such a peaceful spot hearing nothing but the crashing waves of the Med Sea on the rocks beneath me.

Looking back to Moneglia along the beautiful coast road

The next morning I woke up, packed up and set off to do one of the famous tourist things that everyone does in Italy- the walk of the Cinque Terra. It’s literally a 9km walk of the five villages along very small tracks up and down the edge of the coast line and in and around the small villages and farming areas. The walk was beautiful and I was blessed to meet some lovely people along the way. There were lots of tourists! It was a pretty tough walk too, made more difficult by me carrying a back pack filled of my key essentials that I didn't want anyone to nick off my bike. It was seriously heavy, becoming progressively heavier with each step. It was the first time I'd left all my gear on the bike and just hoping that no one would help themselves. But everything was sweet. The walk took the rest of the day. By the time I got to Riomaggiore, I realised that I took the wrong track, consequently walking a couple of kilometers into the mountains and through a lot of private properties.

I eventually found Riomaggiore and caught the train back to the first village Monterosso where I had already sussed out my hotel suite for the night where I could get some well deserved R&R. That night was amazing! I had the best views of all. The famous hotel on the headland had a tombolo connected by a small spit to its headland. On the very end there was a little dwelling that I squatted in for the night, cooked up some amazing chickpea pancakes filled with some veggies and forageable free foods and a bottle of red. I was so happy after a slog of a day walking and walking with the weight of my pack. The views were amazing and it was like I was on my own private island. Increasing the spectacular view was the full moon rising in the distance later on that night. I was so happy to be chilling on the Mediterranean.

The next village is Corniglia

I really enjoyed the harvesting of the free foods too. I called it "The forage of the free foods". There were so many herbaceous plants growing everywhere, like wild spinach, heaps of different types of Brassicas, rosemary, oregano, sages ... even citrus fruit was found in some places. I loved finding the free foods, picking them fresh and creating some wholesome healthy meals with them. There is so much more to learn though. What I'd love as an introduction to a country is a botanical guided tour of forgeable free foods. Now that would be grand!

The view from my private hotel suite on my private tombolo

I woke realising that it was time to make tracks, recalling that Gianni and Miskey were heading to England in the next few days. I really wanted to meet them, so I followed the coast to Pisa. I rode all the up to the Leaning Tower, got a picture and had a little walk around. I then had some lunch before deciding to keep moving. There were too many tourists for my liking, which considering the fame of the Tower was quite understandable. I was then off to Florence, and from Florence I took a small, yet beautiful road through the country side to Siena; a very amazing old city. Siena was very beautiful and produced some fantastic gelato! I then headed east to Perugia and Assisi to find my way to Paradiso. It was a bit of a mission to find Gianni and Miskeys house, consulting locals as to where they actually lived, heading to their recommendation, then not finding their house, then starting the little cycle all over again. I was heading back and forth, back and forth. Fortunately my positive vibes still existent, therefore, I finally found their place in the Italian darkness. I was so happy to have got there. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Gianni and Miskey, they are such beautiful people and live in a very special place overlooking the Subasio Mountain where Saint Francis spent much of his time talking to the birds and connecting with nature. He was an amazing man for his time, one of the first pioneers of ecology itself, connecting nature and people for centuries to come. There is a lot to learn from St Francis and I might write more up about him later.

Eh, I made it to the leaning tower of Pisa!

So, in my role as a helping hand in Paradiso, we got into work, pruning fruit and olive trees, burning off many branches of pine and other tree branches got up high for some acrobatics while chain sawing. Eating fantastic foods and being in great company, I was surrounded by blissful sounds of nature. Their house was restored from an old ruin filled with worldly goods and much beautiful art, therefore I was very happy to stay and help out.

Okay then, let’s do it- let’s get down to the crunch of the story! AKA: The sequence of events that lead to me being in my current consequential situation. Gianni and Miskey were off to England for a couple of days and I was going to house sit in this beautiful place until they returned. I was putting off catching the train to Roma for a couple of days, but this one Friday morning I woke up early and said to myself "Today is the day, the day I shall go to Roma and fight barbarian gladiators in the colosseum!" But on my way a terrible something happened out of the blue. It was around six in the morning. It was still dark but I was on my way to Assisi to catch the train to Roma. Winding my way through the valley, everything felt good; just like normal, or even better as I just done regular maintenance on the bike the day before. Anyhow, taking the bends as I normally do at a regular speed, I felt my rear tyre roll over and mush into the hard tar of the road. It threw me over to the left side of the road as I was taking a bend to the right. Heading for one of those metal barriers that stop cars from falling over the edge, I somehow got the bike to turn the other way, somehow just missing the metal barrier that would have twisted me and my dragonfly in ways unimaginable. I hit the grass with a huge thud, then felt my body come into contact with loose gravel. I then fell and slid along the tar until my dragonfly and I eventually came to a stop. It all happened in slow motion and I remember seeing individual sparks from the bike as it was scraping beneath me. I got up slowly, a wee bit shaken and saw the pants I was wearing. “Oh no!” I thought as I had borrowed them off Gianni without telling him because mine were still filthy from working with pine resin. So my first thoughts were about the pants, then I walked to collect my bag and a part of my helmet. Deep in thought, I was contemplating about how lucky I was. Suddenly, my foot felt sore and as I tried to walk on it, it kind of clicked. I've never felt something like that before, I thought to myself. I picked up the bike, got her in neutral and started her up. I thought: shit, I better go home and get some ice on it, then, like a kick in the nuts, the insane pain really kicked in. I saw some drivers lights at the next farm and rode the bike slowly towards the lights as I felt I had a flat tyre, I parked the bike hobbling to the man saying "Assisi! Do you go to Assisi? I need ospitale, ospitale". I could see the mirrored reflection of pain and fear from my eyes in his. It was pretty painful.

Without hesitation we took off to hospital where the nice old man dropped me off. It was a horrible trip, I felt every bump and it took forever to get to Assisi. Ah! I just wanted the pain to stop. The nurses in emergency took me in and cleaned me up, before we got all the paperwork done. Luckily I had my European Union card in my wallet for all the formalities to be completed. I sat and suffered in my own pain, they offered me drugs but I refused, I felt I needed to feel what it was like to have this pain and suffer in it. I'd never felt pain like this before. I had to wait for the x-ray man at radiology to start work at 0730, so I endured and suffered on the hospital bed in emergency. No one spoke English at that stage but I had a fair idea of what was going on. The x-ray man came in and took me through to the x-ray room. I sat on the table in my undies and he took the X-rays. I could tell from his mumbling, grumbling and his soft touches as he manoeuvred my foot in the right position for the adequate x-ray shot, that all was not good. "Non bello" he said. And I thought hmmmm.... He showed me on the computer the breaks. It wasn't just the sprain I was hoping for. At this stage my ankle had a lump three quarters of the size of a tennis ball coming out it.

Need I say anymore other than “Ouch Ei Mumma!”

I knocked the very edge off the top

of the arch bone too.

They pulled me into the corridor where I waited and waited. I ended up having a rather nice picnic there as I had a pre-packed lunch ready for my day out in Rome. I also had a good chance of getting into my book Shantaram where I could potentially be taken on an adventure through; an adventure that I could only dream of at this stage. At least it partly took my mind of the pain. The nurses were organising a transfer to Perugia hospital, where some foot specialists were. I consequently experienced my first ever ride in an Ambulance. It wasn't the best as the roads after winter are a bit hole-ridden and in need of repairs. The doctors scared the shit out me, surprisingly speaking English, saying:

"We're just examining the X-rays now to confirm if you need an operation".

All as I could think was, “think positive thoughts man... all will be okay, there will be no operation, you will just have to rest up for a couple of weeks with a plaster.”

I don’t know why I look so happy, Jesus man,

you just broke your ankle and your foot!!!

It was all okay as there was no need for an operation. The staff just set it in plaster and took another X-ray to make sure it was set and I was free to find my way back home. But I had no crutches to walk with and the hospital didn't supply any... Another mission in the works!

I figured out where I had to go to get the crutches, which was a mission in its self. I had to get myself a wheelchair and I did the runner out of emergency with it, an ambulance was leaving at the same time so the garage doors opened and I was out. The warm sunlight gave me some much needed praise for the day, but there was a second boom gate. The ambulance went through and as I was trying to come to terms with being a cripple and work out how to wheel the god damn chair! The security guard closed the boom in front of me and was yelling at me in Italian. I was on a mission! I limbered under the boom gate. I needed to get some crutches! While wheeling as fast as I could, I shouted back "Non Parlo Italiano, no, no, no, I need to go!" The security guard was shouting at me and jumping on the phone to notify his colleagues. Too bad buddy, I was off. It was hard work wheeling myself around and up a slight hill and not knowing my surroundings. I felt useless and weak, and, I guess.... like a cripple. I came to terms with myself as a cripple and was soon okay with it. I just needed some crutches to get home with. Asking people for the place to get crutches from by miming was funny but it eventually got me there. To my surprise and gratitude, it wasn't that far from the hospital. So I got the crutches at 50 euro cents a day and started to wheel myself back to the hospital. What a mission! Halfway there a brother in a brown cloak and a white roped belt started talking to me in Italian and then wheeled me all the way back to emergency where I returned the wheelchair like a good saint.

You thought the adventure was coming to an end right? Wrong! The journey to get home was even more of a mission. Here goes the explanation... I caught a bus to the Perugia train station. At the bus stop the bus driver decided to take off really quick as I was trying to exit the bus and I fell to the ground helplessly. Everyone shouted at the bus driver, I really wanted to shout too but I didn't say a word. This hurt. I got off and put my bag back on my back and crutched my way to the train station. The train didn't arrive for ages so I waited and waited. It finally came and by the time it did, there were so many people ready to get on the train that I didn’t think they would all fit! I waited until the end and then once again helplessly tried to climb the enormous steps to get into the carriage door.

It made me think: man, it must me so tough for disabled people to do this every day! Eventually we arrived into the little town before Assisi, so I got off the train and jumped on the next bus that came. I didn't even look at where it was going. I didn't care. What a blessing! It took me right up the top of Assisi, I got off on the main road which was great and then it was time to hitch. I had to climb up the hill for a bit longer, it was very enduring and my back pack was heavy. I dreamingly said to myself: "A beautiful woman will pick you up and take you all the way to the front door at Paridiso". And that is exactly what happened! A woman with a birth name of Gaia picked me up. She definitely was an earthly goddess. She ended up living over the other side of the valley to us. And yes she took me all the way to the front door, helping me and carrying my heavy pack. I was dreading walking up the driveway from the main road, it’s not the easiest or shortest driveway to walk up. I was so grateful and so happy to be home, although it took me over ten minutes to pull my ripped pants off. I actually spent the entire day at the hospital in my undies, it was great!

I rested up until Gianni and Miskey returned on the Sunday. Then together we went to a Classical Indian concert, following my lengthy and detailed explanation of everything about the accident over a late lunch. The music was incredible and lifted my spirits. I am very much looking forward to India still, despite it possibly being a little later than first planned. Gaia was there and checked to see how I was. The following day she brought me over some calendula, hypericum and some secret Swedish herb infusions to mix up and put on my open wounds. It all looked a bit mucus-like and scary, but right now, it’s healing quite well. Thanks Gaia. Oh and it was the first time I'd ever had to give myself a needle, in the belly, which was due to continue once per day, every day for the next three days. This was to stop the blood from clotting or something like that. The summation is that it’s not a pleasant experience!

The Classical Indian concert

Kind-hearted Gianni and Miskey have let me stay and heal up here in Paradiso which is full of so many of life's great creations. It’s great here, in the wilderness and surrounding farmlands, where the birds are singing and where we have the time to see the beauty in everything: the clouds, the birds, the trees budding and blossoming, the sunsets... I am very grateful by the beautiful nature all around us. Gianni is good at “photo-shopping” the clouds too, he has this special remote control where he has the ability to move clouds so we can enjoy the beautiful sunshine while we eat outside. I’m very happy to be here given the current circumstances. If something like this happened in another country like Pakistan, God only knows what would have happened to me or how I'd be dealing with a broken ankle. Right now I’m in Parasiso and will be happily resting up here until my ankle has healed, or until Gianni and Miskey can’t stand me- whichever comes first. They may get sick of me wearing my kilt and elegant morning coat around the house and subsequently kick my booty out of here. No, just jokes... I’m blessed to be here and to be resting up, I can’t thank you enough Gianni and Miskey, you are both such beautiful people and so, so, so wonderful, generous, warm hearted and full of a great energy for life. For all of you followers, I happily recommend that you check some of Gianni’s work at, they are amazing pieces!

One of the following days after trying to come to terms with what actually happened, I began to try to reason with myself on an unknown level. Gianny and I went to the farm to see if my dragonfly was still there and ended up discovering that I had a blow out. My rear tyre had a missive split in it and then we noticed a massive notch and a bend in the rim. Gianny walked and I hobbled to investigate the crash scene, and after much confusion we tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The only explanation to the notch and bend in the rim was that a piece of steel had to of done it and that somehow this culprit piece of steel got itself lodged in the rim and smacked the tyre. It must have burst as I was taking the turn. Close to the scene was a construction site where a house was being built, this is where the piece of steel must have come from. So the conclusion we came to was that in the dark the morning of the accident, I rode over an oddly shaped piece of steel (maybe in the shape of a C or a U), which flicked up and smacked into the rear rim. The pressure of that knock split the tyre, and wobbly woo, off I went. Considering what could have occurred, I was so lucky that the damage was only as it was. The outcome could have been much worse. But more of the Crime Scene Investigation Unit (Giany, his friend and me) might find more to the story when we finally get the bike home and take off the tyre at a later stage.

On a deeper more philosophical level of reasoning, why has this happened to me right here, right now, on this part of my journey, in this moment in time? I still don’t know the answer to this. Sometime these questions find an answer at a later stage in life...

Maybe the Subasio has the answer???

As well as being in such a beautiful place here, I am surrounded by healing properties all around. The two waterfalls on the property have slippery slides of limestone as the calcium has built up over many years. And ironically, calcium is the basis of my bones... Below the waterfalls is a special plant called Equisetum which has an ancient lineage from the carboniferous period. This plant possesses the highest concentration of Silica of any plant on earth. The Silica has a vast amount of healing properties. For instance, for me right now, it promotes bone health by contributing to the maturation and stability of the skeletal system. The Silica aids the cohesion of molecular proteins found in the body's connective tissues, so it is very useful in the treatment of broken bones and fractures. Yep- that’s just what I need. Now I need to do some research into how to prepare it and try and get down to the creek and the bottom of the waterfall with my crutches. Oh wait! Gianni has just returned from the health shop with it in a tablet form. Fantastic!!!

It looks like I’ll be in the cast for about a month, so there is a fair bit of time to do some catching-up on ideas and maybe plan some of my future endeavours.

Resting it up in my kilt

To a more happier healthy healing in Paradiso....